Congrats to Florence, winner of last week’s giveaway contest!
From the 2013 Debs…
Deb Kerry is nearing the end of the first revision of the sequel to BETWEEN. Will she finish it this week? Tune in to next week’s newsflash to find out!
Deb Dana will be documenting her upcoming week for Untitled Books’ column, My Week — and is therefore hoping something happens more interesting than “made oatmeal, revised book #2, slept.”
Deb Kelly dorkily pre-ordered THE GLASS WIVES. Ridiculous, right? Just want to make sure I get my copy on day one!
Deb Susan was interviewed by Chuck Wendig at TERRIBLEMINDS, and discovered (to her delight) that CLAWS OF THE CAT is available for pre-order on Amazon! (She also joined the fun and pre-ordered Deb Amy’s THE GLASS WIVES!) Susan is speaking at the Georgia Romance Writers’ Moonlight & Magnolias Writing Conference in Atlanta next weekend – if you’re there, please find her and say hello!
Deb Amy is thrilled that THE GLASS WIVES is now available for pre-order on Amazon!
Past Deb News
Deb Linda is in Arlington, VA this weekend, signing books and attending author events at the NAIBA Conference.
Deb Friend Kelly O’Connor McNees ‘s new title comes out on Tuesday! IN NEED OF A GOOD WIFE is, as Robin Oliveira said, “impossible to put down.”
Deb Dish – What’s your favorite aspect of attending writers’
conferences or having author friends?
Deb Amy: I’ve only been to one conference, but I am fortunate to have many writer friends. I can describe what makes them awesome in three words: THEY GET IT.
Deb Dana: I’ve never attended a writers’ conference and, as you will see in my post this week, I don’t really have many writer friends other than my sister-in-law (who rocks!!) and these Debs (who also rock!). To whatever extent my writer network is limited, it’s really nice to have people who, as Amy says, “get it.” Here’s hoping my network grows!
Deb Kelly: I love gushing to authors I love. It’s like meeting an imaginary friend in real life.
Deb Kerry: I attended both RT and RWA this summer. I got to meet writers I’ve known for awhile on Twitter, and I got to meet new and fascinating people, and I even met some famous, bestseller type people. The awesome thing was this - they were all excited about books and writing!
Deb Susan: I’m with Amy on this one – I love all my friends, authors and non-authors alike, but there’s a camaraderie born of walking through the fire that binds authors together regardless of where they are on the publishing path. Conferences are three full days of no-holds-barred celebration with the tribe, and I love every minute of it!
Deb Ball alum Sarah Jio‘s first novel, The Violets of March, was published by Penguin (Plume) on April 26, 2011 and was chosen as a Best Book of 2011 by Library Journal. Her second novel, The Bungalow, was published on December 27, 2011, also from Penguin (Plume). Her third novel, Blackberry Winter, was just published. Her fourth novel, The Last Camellia, will be published in May 2013. Sarah recently sold her fifth and sixth novels to Penguin and is at work on those. In total, to date, Sarah’s books have been sold/translated for publication in 17 countries. A former journalist, Sarah written for O, Glamour, Redbook, SELF, Health, Cooking Light, Marie Claire and many other publications. She lives in Seattle with her husband, Jason, and their three young sons.
BLACKBERRY WINTER, which was praised by Real Simple and chosen as a “Most Anticipated Book of Fall” by Kirkus Reviews, has just been released.
And now, we are thrilled to bring you Sarah, who takes the Deb Interview and answers our burning questions…
Talk about one thing that’s making you happy right now:
My houseboat! My husband (very generously) offered to rent me a houseboat as an office for the next four months while I write my fifth novel for Penguin, which is set on a houseboat in Seattle. I’m loving the houseboat experience and spend as much time there as possible. It has a porthole window in the loft bedroom, and a cozy little living room that looks out to Seattle’s Lake Union and a family of ducks.
Where do you love to be?
Home! I’m a hopeless homebody and would rather be here in my home in Seattle than anywhere else. I think I will be forever in love with Seattle, too. I’ve lived in and around Seattle my whole life, and I’ve yet to find a more perfect place (in my mind). I also love the rain, and the excuses to drink hot beverages and wear sweaters.
What time of day do you love best?
8:00: Kids are all in bed, and the house is quiet. My golden retriever retires to my office where she lets out a sigh under my desk and settles in for a snooze while I start working on my novels. Even better, when it’s a stormy night and I can open my window and listen to the rain falling outside.
Share one quirk you have that most people don’t know about.
I sneeze, without fail, after I take my first bite of chocolate! (Doesn’t stop me from eating chocolate, though!) Do you have a regular ‘first reader’? If so, who is it and why that person?
My husband, Jason, is always the first person to read my early drafts. It’s always so hard for me to hand them over to him, and I frequently pace the floors asking him for feedback every five minutes, but I trust his impressions and he’s a great filter before I send on to my agent to read. He’s also really good at helping me with male dialogue. He’ll sometimes find passages where males are speaking and point out that guys would “never say something like that!” While I don’t always agree with his ideas, I have to admit, he’s right about 95 percent of the time.
Find BLACKBERRY WINTER at Amazon at or at your local bookstore!
Thanks for being here, Sarah! We cannot wait to dig into Blackberry Winter!
Sarah has generously offered to send a signed copy of BLACKBERRY WINTER to one of our lucky commenters (U.S. addresses only please)! For a chance to win, leave a comment below and tell us what time of day makes you as happy as 8pm makes Sarah…
Divorce is not a joke. Rarely is it funny. Except in the case of one of my best friends giving me a refrigerator magnet I could not put on my refrigerator, so I carried it in my wallet until that wallet was lost.
It said this:
There are two sides to every divorce. Yours, and shithead’s.
I’ve been single for over ten years and that makes me laugh as much now as it did back then.
That’s a good thing because divorce can wipe away a smile and humor – at least temporarily. And like with many things, sometimes you don’t even realize it’s missing until you find it.
During one of my first dates after divorce, I was sitting on a floor pillow at Thai restaurant. I may have been drinking my drink or eating a spring roll, I don’t recall many details. I do know that we were in the midst of an interesting conversation and then, my date laughed. Really laughed. That’s when the little voice inside my head told me something important. He wasn’t laughing at me. He was laughing because I’d said something funny.
And then I remembered:
I WAS FUNNY!
I had forgotten. Yes. I’d forgotten I was funny. Isn’t that sad? And right there, and then, I was me again — someone I refuse to let go of, or ever forget about, again.
But, no matter how funny I may be, humor is not always appropriate. While my editor has told me she thinks I’m funny in my writing and in real life (which I take as a high compliment), she also had me pare back the humor in my novel, THE GLASS WIVES. The book needed to be more balanced, so I added heft and depth. I removed some of the quips. She was right. Too many one-liners were distracting.
When the topic turns to humor, I must confess a deep and all-consuming love for the pun.
One of my all-time favorite games involves punning back and forth with someone else until one of us loses the ability to add a new pun to the chain or bursts out laughing. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to have several close friends and family members who not only appreciate but enjoy this particular game.
I have a difficult time not making a pun if the opportunity presents. (My week 2 post here at the ball confirms it, as those who remember my “sea minor” joke recall.) This causes me no end of private amusement – and one very memorable socially awkward moment. (The incident involved a funeral parlor and my father’s ashes. The curious can check the comments on Deb Kerry’s Monday post – because I told the whole embarrassing story there.)
Most of the time, however, the puns are a source of harmless amusement. My family and friends have grown to expect them. My son, in particular, finds them at least as entertaining as I do, and though he groans at some of my better (or worse) attempts he’s developing a skill at punning that may someday put me to shame.
How much do puns feature into my daily life?
I recently acquired a baby abalone for my reef aquarium. It took me less than five minutes to name him Oscar.
Because … “my (a)balone has a first name…it’s O-S-C-A-R…”
(Those of you not groaning don’t know your bologna ads).
This is par for the course.
Some people think that attorneys have no sense of humor. In some cases, that’s true, but I see things a little differently. Maybe I’m just a magnet for the strange and unusually funny, or maybe I’m just few french fries short of a Happy Meal myself, but I see the world through a lens that filters heavily for humor … and most heavily of all for the humorous pun.
This translates into my writing too. My ninja detective, Hiro Hattori, doesn’t exactly approve of puns, but his dry sense of humor has more than a little crossover with my own. His friend and crime-solving partner, Father Mateo, is Portuguese, which provides some interesting opportunities for word play in between the murder scenes and “ninja moments.”
So…did you laugh or groan at the abalone? Where do you stand on puns – or on ninja detectives? Click into the comments and let me know – I’d love to hear what makes you smile!
Asking a funny person to talk about humor is the fastest way to make that person choke up, begin wheezing, tell an off-color joke that makes everyone uncomfortable and then slink away.* I think I’m a pretty funny person from time to time, but as soon as I saw I was supposed to blog about humor this week, I closed my computer, laid down on my bed, and took an angry nap. How the heck am I supposed to be funny when I’m supposed to be, you know, funny? No thank you, fellow Debs. You can take your humor week and talk about the genius of John Irving or write meaningful stories about grief or deliver amazing puns that have us groaning for weeks or whatever makes you happy. I will NOT BE FUNNY ON COMMAND.
Do you hear me? I won’t do it. If you want jokes, listen to Fox News.
Ok, that is the only even slightly funny thing I am going to say today. For the rest of the post I will be discussing the national deficit.
Ahem. The national deficit is…
Dammit. I know very little about the national deficit. Basically my understanding of the national deficit is just slightly greater than that of a presidential candidate, and just slightly smaller than my son’s understanding of appropriate uses of the toilet. (His best guess is that it’s a prime place to put expensive toys. I had to get one of those damn toilet locks. Now whenever I want to pee I have to plan ahead.)
Fine. I will talk about humor. But only for two hundred words. Then I am telling a bad joke and slinking away.
Here is what I have to say about humor: my brand, at least, comes of weirdness. It comes from growing up in a family where most TV was strongly discouraged but L.A. Law was always ok. Where I read the entire backlist of Doonesbury comics before I was 12 years old and as a result think communist China was once rife with comic hilarity. (Quoth me, during the Beijing Olympics: “When did China get so serious?”) I’m not even going to talk about my Muppet habit. And like weird people through time, I used my library card like a weapon against normalcy. I read Cold Comfort Farm before I got my first bra. I thought Roald Dahl only wrote adult books. I liked to listen to The Restaurant at the End of the Universe on my Walkman, because apparently just reading it wasn’t enough. I wanted hits of Douglas Adams when I was on the go.
And yes, like many other weird-funny people, I was exposed to A Fish Called Wanda far, far too young.
This kind of weird-based funny cannot be taught, I fear. Either you are raised weird or you are not. (Sorry normal people, but on the bright side, think of what you’re saving on therapy.) What I wasn’t born knowing, but am learning over time, is that funny writing doesn’t need to be directed at anything. It doesn’t require hilarious situations you’ve spent hours and pages setting up. It doesn’t have to be the result of someone falling down, being the butt of the joke, or getting hit in the crotch (although if you are lucky enough to have seen that movie where Cameron Diaz marries Demi’s ex in Vegas due to some kind of drunken accident and then they win a fortune at the slots, it IS super funny when the Cameron’s best friend punches her jerk ex right in the business). You don’t even have to make fun of yourself to be funny, though I do find it useful in a pinch, like when I’ve just revealed the sort of movies I like to watch and they star people named “Cameron” and “Ashton.”
Those things can all make a person laugh, of course, but my favorite brand of funny in fiction comes when the characters themselves are so inherently funny that just by being themselves they make us laugh. Think Klinger in Mash, or Theo in the Cosby Show, or Ron Swanson in Parks and Rec. Ron Swanson isn’t a joke-teller, he doesn’t scald people in power with his witty takedowns, or make fun of his own thunderthighs, or slip on banana peels. He doesn’t really do anything just to be funny. And yet every time he casts his lusting eyes over to his enormous framed photograph of glistening bacon, eggs, and toast,** we get a free laugh. Cause he was just written that way.
And that, I sincerely believe, you can learn.
*I only know one tasteless joke and here it is:
How do blind parachuters know when they’re about to reach the ground?
The leash goes slack.
God, I’m sorry. I wish I’d never heard that joke. Please pretend you heard it somewhere else.
**Confidential to Deb Susan: see how I punctuated this sentence about breakfast? That’s right, I used the serial comma.
When I first told my parents I was writing a romantic comedy, my dad widened his eyes and smiled and, after getting over his apparent initial shock, said, “Wow.”
“What do you mean, ‘wow’?” I asked.
“It’s just surprising, that’s all. A comedy. Because, you know, you’re so…serious.”
Which I guess I can be, some of the time. Or maybe a lot of the time. My brother, Brian, is the jokester of the family. He tells stories that make everyone at the dinner table laugh until we can’t breath, our faces bright red and our eyes filled with tears. He’s the one with the sharp comebacks, so that when one of his friends swears he has been working out and “doing crunches,” my brother, without missing a beat, shoots back, “Yeah — Nestle’s crunches.”
I, on the other hand, usually need a good few hours — possibly days — to come up with a witty retort, but once I do, let me tell you, I will NAIL IT. In the heat of the moment, however, my comebacks usually sound something like this:
That’s Liz Lemon, Tina Fey’s alter ego on 30 Rock. Whereas Tina Fey is sharp and witty and known for her ability to improvise, Liz Lemon is awkward and nerdy. She also really, really likes cheese. Lemon makes us laugh, but more because we are laughing at her, not with her. In the world of 30 Rock, she is the head writer on a comedy show, which means, in theory, even if Lemon is not a standup comedian herself, she can appreciate humor. She can write funny, even if she isn’t a so-called funny person.
For some like Tina Fey, “being funny” and “writing funny” are the same thing. But for many writers out there (including Liz Lemon and myself) they are not. In the Tina Fey/Liz Lemon dichotomy, I am most definitely Liz Lemon. I have awkward comebacks and strange dance moves and also enjoy working on my night cheese while wearing my Snuggie. But I don’t have to be that person when I write. You know that famous quote by former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart about pornography? Well, that’s what humor is like for me: I know it when I see it. I can take as long as I need to come up with the perfect comic comeback, but when I do — BAM! — there it goes into my manuscript, straight from my character’s mouth. I can make my characters hilarious and quick-witted, even when Dana Bate The Person is not.
That’s why writing is so wonderful. You create these characters who take on lives of their own and do things you would never — or could never — do. No one would want to read a book about what I did this morning or last night (unless you, too, enjoy working on your night cheese, in which case…let’s talk), but I can invent characters whose lives are filled with adventure and activity and whose commentary on those adventures and activities can make people laugh out loud. Even if it takes me a while to make that happen.
What about you? Are you quick with the witty retorts, or do you, like me, stand in front of the mirror a day later and say, “Oh, yeah? Well…you have unfortunate feet! Booyah!”?
We stand in a forlorn little clump on the funeral parlor sales floor – my brother, my mother, and I – attempting to pick out a casket for a man who can’t possibly be dead. We are all a little lost, not sure yet who we are without him or whether the family center will hold. One thing we all see for certain but don’t know how to say: the glossy wood and satin linings are just all wrong. Dad was a man who worked hard, lived hard, laughed hard. The idea of him dressed in funereal black and lying with his hands folded in one of these slick, be-frilled monstrosities is absurd.
And then the undertaker looks at us and asks the momentous question: “What direction do you want him to face when he’s buried?”
I am in danger of being swamped, the world turned upside down and inside out that such a thing could possibly matter. A breath. A heartbeat. And then my wonderful big brother says, “I think he’d want to point north.”
With that, right there in the middle of that terrible place, the two of us are doubled over and whooping with laughter while our poor mother apologizes to the undertaker for our unseemly behavior. For that perfect shining moment, the grief recedes. The laughter unites us, pulls us back together as family, and the world rights itself and begins once more to make a reasonable amount of sense.
Some call it gallows humor. Psychologists call it a defense mechanism. Frankly, I don’t care what you call it, I will continue to find the humor in the darkest places because for me that’s what keeps the world spinning on its axis.
It seems to me that laughter and tears often lie along parallel paths, and that laughter is just as healing and necessary as tears. Years ago I watched my beloved brother-in-law dealing with the loss of his wife, and for the first time saw that grief could be beautiful. He shared his loss openly and deeply, alternating between tears and funny stories that set us all to laughing. I could see the healing unfolding before my eyes in this communal process of shared story and emotion.
The best of books follow this course, it seems to me, riding the line between the unbearably painful and the absurd and hilarious. When I read A Prayer for Owen Meanie years ago, Irving managed to make me both laugh and cry on the same page. I closed the book with a sort of awe, asking, “How did you do that?”
I still haven’t figured it out. This sort of writing takes both courage and skill, a combination of which I haven’t mastered yet. But then, I’m still learning, both how to write and how to live. And I’m hopeful that one of these days the words will line up on the page in a shining moment where grief and humor meet in the perfect chemistry of emotion.
What are your thoughts about dark humor, both in life and in literature?
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